Sunday, May 14, 2017

Who Are Schools For?

Some things students say can just stick with you.

I clearly recall a moment that occurred the week of midterms for our elementary students this semester. I haven’t given tests as of the past few years, and it’s during spring that we have a cool movie-making project. During this time when students were motivated, interested, and able to use their creativity came events that the students dread. It was on one of the days the week of approaching the midterms that a student said to me, “I’m so tired. I don’t want to do anything.” Normally, a teacher could become frustrated at a comment like this, try one’s best to encourage the child to stay motivated, yada yada yada. What actually happened was I took time to listen to him and some of the recent reasons of which caused this tiredness. Number one was, of course, cramming for the tests. Day and night.


This memory came flooding back when I saw this image tweeted by Adam Welcome (#kidsdeserveit). It reminded me of conversations I’ve had with admin and teachers, Chinese and foreign, about the connections between how some things have always been done and the serious effects those same issues can have on a student’s love of learning/growth. It pains me to hear students say (and even some teachers show) that they don’t want to go to school. 

Students despise homework and teachers complain about grading and then having students fix mistakes? My reply: Why do students need homework? Do students love learning? How can high-stakes testing be removed while true, consistent assessment stays strong?

Students loathe morning exercises where they run to military music. My reply: Can students have free time? Why not play Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Michael Jackson, or other modern music while running? (Many students have voiced their opinion about various songs or musicians.)

Students detest the need to miss specials, clubs, and free time to “fix mistakes.” Usually, the number of corrections is more than a couple times. My reply: Why are students making so many “mistakes” in the first place? How should students learn? How should they view mistakes in the course of school/life? How can they rebound and move forward on their own?

The list goes on, and so do my thoughts regarding the new school that I’m planning to help open starting this fall. I read a considerable amount of research, and if a school within the Chinese education system wants to just focus on student enrollment and raising scores/grades along with somehow expecting to genuinely push innovation forward, the leaders must revisit traditional habits, teachers must be open to new ways to educate, and both must examine how they relate to students in 2017. Start to have conversations that most likely lead to collaborative research, discussions, and plans for change. (Side note: Finland did this back in the 1990s. 1990s!)

Like I told my future principal, “You want more students to come during the first few years? Get rid of or cut down homework considerably. That will get students talking and sharing on social media.” Hopefully that and other changes could be seen as indicators that we would be making the best decisions for the students, seeing that…

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why I'm a #TESOLteacher

Originally when my wife and I moved to China, it wasn’t because I had a deep desire to be a #TESOLteacher. I have to be honest.


There was a Teacher Recruitment Fair put on by my alma mater. At the fair, there were several school corporations represented. Personally, I was hoping for a Special Services position. But there was an organization that a “practice” interview had gone well for. The kick was that it was located in China. That organization’s interviewer then connected me with the private Chinese school that I have worked at now for nearly six years. 

In my time here, I have stayed up-to-date on current global education news, research, and networks. I clearly recall my first year teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in China. It was quite the transition from American Education, and I was flexible and open to learning, which can be a strength and weakness. It can be a strength because of being willing to learn, try, reflect, analyze, and move forward alongside Chinese and other foreigners. It can also be a weakness because of going in naive, taking all kinds of advice, and not knowing how to discern what kind of education is actually best for the students. 

Since my first year, I have known that any growth or forward movement in my teaching would need to improve by connecting with others via Twitter, blogs, etc. Through this and continual reading, to be quite frank, I have found myself more connected with the students in our school than I have with other teachers. You see, the students and I agree on many educational issues while school leaders/teachers across our city look more at student numbers, test scores, and factors that an exam can't measure  The importance of these data continues to spill over. (Side note: It’s worth mentioning that China is not alone in this regard.)


These are just a few of the reasons why I’m a #TESOLteacher. I desire changes necessary for the betterment of education. No matter if it’s education in America, China, or the world, I don’t and won’t accept what has always been done.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why Did I Join Blogging Buddies?

A couple days ago, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came upon a tweet from Katie Siemer


The idea for grouping edtech (ET) coaches gave me an adrenaline rush.

I was quickly drawn to it for a few reasons.

1) I really enjoy reflecting, obtaining others' feedback, and staying focused on growth (personal & professional).
2) I'm extremely interested in edtech and its purpose within education as well as society.
3) This kind of group could be another way for people such as edtech coaches or teachers who assist other teachers in tech integration to connect, band together, and push our thinking forward.

Therefore, I clicked on the link and read about the roots of #ETCoaches, its mission, and the detailed steps necessary to participate. Almost all of the requirements were things I was doing already. Without too much time or too many tasks added to my plate, I decided to join seeing that it wouldn't be a burden or possible source of burnout. But I wasn't done there, and hopefully, others aren't either.


This sense of urgency led me back to the original tweet where I Quoted it and added several hashtags of chats or groups that take part around the world

The groups of #ETCoaches shouldn't come off as feeling limited in the representatives to one certain country/region. My hope is that through Blogging Buddies each ET Coach can learn more details within the big picture of edtech. That includes us all being open to learning about cultures, differences, and the collaboration necessary for us all to move forward with the resources/ideas we have available together.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How to Make Sense of China’s Education System

Recently, I finished a book by Yong Zhao called, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World

The book was extremely enlightening since it provided quite an informative background on Chinese history and the depth of its appalling effects on global education, the Chinese education system, and its individual students. 

Before reading Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?, I had somewhat of an understanding of the current Chinese education system, which allowed me to empathize with my students who endure hours of lectures, homework, and demands everyday. Seeing that I am nearing the end of my sixth year of teaching in China, I can say firsthand that I’m not surprised at all of what Yong Zhao says cover to cover. The accuracy behind the Chinese system’s foundations and layers is what keeps me up some nights. These periods of time aren’t due simply to the extremity of the present situation but also how to go about inventing educational models that will meet the students’ needs for the future, initiating that dialogue, and taking steps to move forward together. 


Yong Zhao imparted a great depth of understanding throughout in regards to…

-Why do students/people in China tend to copy each other or others’ original ideas?
-Why do students have, in the eyes of a foreign English teacher, a propensity to copy each other’s homework or plagiarize?
-Why do local teachers in China not speak up more or express the need for change/reforms?
-Where does this base idea of not sincerely following the rules/educational mandates derive from?
-Why do countries from around the world want to imitate China’s education system?
-and so much more…

I would recommend this book for anyone involved in global education, teaching in China, or wanting to start an education revolution. 

(P.S. - In the future, I plan to mull over more on these topics and others related since there was a study guide, with questions for every chapter, that came with the book.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

“Mr. Scott, do you have Facebook?”

A student asked me this question as soon as class was done today, and it threw me for a loop. Not because I was surprised at his question, but because it had taken most of the school year to go by before any student inquired about American social media. This same student, last semester, started to share about VPNs with me. Sooner rather than later, he acquired one (for quite a cheap price, I might add). Last year, I had several 6th graders who had VPNs and used them mainly, it seemed, to browse Instagram.

He then sought to know if I would connect with him if he were to add me as a friend. I explained the boundaries I consider vital between current students and teacher on American social media, how it could influence both sides, and how some distance is needed. What’s ironic is that I’m connected to almost every one of my students on Chinese social media such as WeChat or QQ. Chinese and American cultures and their rules vary while I’m still contemplating this aspect as well as how I can integrate the two. 


This question then led my thoughts to split off with curiosity.

1) How free is the internet that my students access and use? How will it affect their lives and education in a Chinese society?

2) How long will Chinese internet, controlled by the Great Firewall, last against students? As a Chinese colleague told me recently, college students are some of the biggest threats to national security.

3) Do I connect with this student on Facebook? Or am I truly setting myself up if I do this? Mind you, the student showed me how he connects to his VPN and then can check Twitter. (Maybe I should show him the power of Twitter as a teacher with my PLN?)

What do you think? 


(As for questions under 1 and 2, more of those thoughts shall be addressed when sharing my reflections on Zhao Yong’s book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"That Pen" and Other Recent Inspirations

I was reflecting on a memory that came to mind from two years ago in my English class. It was of a student who brought in a book related to the content we were studying. The book was in English with some Chinese vocabulary definitions given throughout. This was a book in the student’s third language with her second language supporting. What was most electrifying about the whole scenario was how she used the book with her group for their project, applied and taught some words to her group members, and then was able to use higher-level thinking skills with those words as time went.

It’s amazing that this moment came to mind since I recently came across a tweet where an educator encouraged others to write about why they were still in education. What’s on my mind currently aren’t the only reasons why, but I’ve been quite encouraged lately in a few different ways.

One of those has been a student who has messaged me a few times outside of class regarding his group project, edtech ideas on the iPad, and how to better use the latter for the former. Another cause for this reflection has been the amount of talk my students have had outside of class about my class. In connection with that, some of those students who have held discussions after the bell have approached me, inquired deeper, or extended the dialogue with more genuine thoughts. (Side note: What’s heartwarming has been the amount of students known as “shy” who do this.)

What was tremendously cool within the last couple weeks was a particular student who edited a 30-second clip of hip-hop music on GarageBand and sent it to me. Upon finishing a class that week, I started to play the clip after the bell, and he walked quickly to the front to have me turn it up. We then proceeded to have a conversation regarding next steps he could take. That same student started to use a pen in his textbook, instead of a pencil, because he’s mentioned to me how he has this particular feeling when he has that pen in hand. By golly, he was right! Soon after that day, he came to me with a notepad where he had written a story in English. He said he had something on his mind, and he needed to get it out. What did he use? That pen.


Reflecting on events such as these provide inspiration, motivation, and hope. If I hadn’t taken the time to think back and consider the roles moments like these could have had for me, I’m not sure I would’ve discovered these possible purposes. I’m extremely thankful for my students, the enthusiasm they bring, and the joy their smiles and laughs possess. What/Who has inspired you lately?

photo credit: JFabra <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7749900@N06/2150120698">It's not about demographics, it's about productivity growth!</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

Friday, April 14, 2017

An Unexpected Answer (Safety Series: Part 1)

This week in my 6th grade Science and Critical Thinking class, we analyzed a story of two children who went swimming at a local pond. The problem arose when recent rain raised the bacterial levels too high. Upon this discovery, the lifeguard informed the children to get out of the water. She continued throughout to emphasize how they didn’t listen to her, how she’s responsible for them, and is their “boss” when swimming. The kick came when a scientist from a local water organization enters the pictures to describe some scientific details. Even with the lifeguard informing them of the rules and the scientist’s explanation, the children still want to swim because of their days, past and current, being ruined.


Thus came three choices the students and I evaluated, discussed, and voiced. 

Who should decide what is safe in this context? And why?

a) the scientist
b) children/people
c) the lifeguard whose first focus was on the rules

Most of the students selected the scientist because of experiences, experiments, and how he could know about what is unseen. I pushed those students to consider how he has this knowledge. Only one out of that group mentioned his education. (Side note: I wasn’t surprised about that, and there are layers to the reasons.) A decent amount of students said we should listen to the lifeguard who “knows what is safest for us”. What if the lifeguard didn’t see the bacteria? What if the scientist wasn’t around? In essence, students needed to defend the why behind their whys. It was engrossing to observe them.

Now one student shared a different perspective. He explained how the children should decide what’s safest here because, as one of the children in the story mentioned, they’ve gone swimming many times before and there weren’t any problems. They’re still alive, and they don’t feel like anything in them is different. He then brought up the possibility that the lifeguard and scientist are telling lies for something they want or just for fun.

Indeed I’m going to ask him regarding the connection between feelings and health, frequency of lies/bribery, and trust with people. But take a minute and consider what he said. What if the lifeguard and scientist are in on something together? I certainly didn’t explore that option.

Usually, more often than not, students will think of a view that hadn’t come to my mind yet. The question I now face is: how willing am I going to be when listening to them offer these suggestions instead of too quickly relying on the “one right answer” from the book or my own reasoning?